The Gold Dome building is a historic and eye-catching structure on the southeast corner of Northwest 23rd Street and Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City. The building is a hard-to-miss landmark for those following old Route 66 though town, and marks the southern boundary of Oklahoma City’ Asian District. Once threatened with demolition, the Gold Dome building is once again thriving and has become important part of the local community. But many people may not be familiar with just how unique this building is, or the place it holds in history. The futuristic-looking building is truly one-of-kind in many respects, and also was the forerunner of a small wave of Modern and Populux style buildings in the city and the state in the 1960s. Let’s take a moment to go over what makes the Gold Dome so unique.
Built in 1958, the most outstanding feature of the building is it’s geodesic dome roof. The dome is constructed of 625 diamond-shaped anodized aluminum panels which were originally a bright gold color, but they have faded over the years to patchy shades of gold and silver. The dome is supported by aluminum struts which have also aged from black to a chalky white color. But despite the effects of weathering, the overall effect is futuristic, unearthly, and immediately attention getting. For those with an active imagination, it looks like a domed metal spacecraft has landed in the middle of Oklahoma City. Which was what the architect and builder intended; a modern and technological marvel of a building, a real “traffic stopper” for it’s time.
The building’s show stopping character is enhanced by it’s uniqueness. Based on a design pioneered by architect and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller, it was the first of five geodesic domes of this scale ever constructed in the world and the only one in the Oklahoma designed for commercial purposes. It is also the first geodesic dome to be anodized gold, the first to be built on a 10-foot supporting wall, and very well may be the only geodesic dome in the world built for use as a bank. The building was also a trendsetter; it led a small wave of modern and futuristic-looking bank building in Oklahoma City and across the state, with several new banks built in the Populux style in the early 1960s. Bank designers wanted these new buildings to make a statement about the bank housed inside, implying that a modern and forward-thinking building was home to a bank that was similarly modern and forward-thinking. And the exterior appearance of the Gold Dome was designed to have “modern” and “forward-thinking” in spades.
This feeling of modernity is also evident inside the Gold Dome. The lobby has a terrazzo floor with an inlaid multi-circular pattern, and the lobby ceiling displays the underside of the dome roof, which is still a brilliant gold color. The lobby is lit by suspended “flying disc” light fixtures, which complement the oval shape of the interior and the design patter of the floor. The interior of the building still retains a lot of the fixtures and character of the original tenant, Citizen’s State Bank, despite being converted into retail space and professional offices. The teller windows and counter are still present, as well as the bank vault (which has been converted into an art gallery). The quality of design is evident in how the bank fixtures blend in and complement the building’s interior: a 1960s visitor knew they were in a bank, but were given the impression of being in a structure much more modern and technological than the average brink-and-mortar street corner bank.
And for most of it’s existence, the Gold Dome was a bank. However, in 2001 the building’s owner, Bank One, applied to city government for a permit to demolish the building. Bank One’s plans were to tear down the Gold Dome and sell the property to Walgreen’s, who would build a pharmacy on the site. The proposed demolition was controversial, and a group of concerned citizens stepped forward to petition Bank One for alternatives to demolishing the Gold Dome. The proposed demolition was the subject of debate and demonstrations in the local community for several months until a group of investors, led by Dr. Irene Lam, purchased the building and renovated it, removing some of the unflattering modifications that had crept into the building over the years and returning it to a condition more representative of its original condition. Nowadays, the Gold Dome is a forerunner again, finding new life by bringing classy retail and professional space to the neighborhood, bringing a renaissance of sorts to an area of Oklahoma City that is recovering from blight. New construction and businesses are coming in around it, making the Gold Dome an anchor for community revitalization.
Currently, the building houses professional and community service offices, as well as the “Prohibition Room” a 1930s themed restaurant and night club. The bank’s vault houses the Fletcher Christian Vine children’s art gallery. The building is open to the public and has rooms available to rent for parties and events. For more information, check out the Gold Dome’s website here.
Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office, National Register of Historic Places entry
Wikipedia.org entry: Oklahoma City’s Gold Dome
Kelley Chambers, “Oklahoma City’s Gold Dome building to get a restaurant and lounge”, Journal Record, December 28, 2007.
Kelley Chambers, “Building Bios, Oklahoma City’s Gold Dome”, Journal Record, January 28, 2008.